What a ‘CORKER’


 ‘Sobreiro Monumental’ – Monumental Cork Oak

1st Place Whistler Oak, Aguas de Moura, Portugal 26,606
2nd Place 7 Olmos (7 Elms) Cabeza del Buey, Spain 22,323
3rd Place Elder of the Belgorod Forest (Oak) Russian Federation 21,884

It is officially the world’s largest & oldest cork oak tree (Quercus suber) as recognised by the Guinness book of records. But now, Portugal’s Whistler Oak can lay claim to yet another prestigious title. This week in the salubrious surroundings of the EU Parliament in Brussels, it has been crowned winner of  European Tree of the year 2018 in its debut appearance in this fun contest which is aimed at promoting the arboreal treasures of Europe.

So it seems perhaps that, across the world the imbibers of quality wines have repaid their debt to the iconic Whistler Oak tree. The winning number of votes 26,606, also being a confirmation of the affection for the numerous other  productive cork trees and for the richly bio-diverse, culturally rich & thriving ‘Montados’ of Portugal. These expansive ‘Treescapes’, where millions of the continually productive wonder trees grow. Hopefully, as if to confirm the uniqueness of just how special these  wooded areas are, the ‘Montados’ may soon be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site . Being currently sited on the tentative list.


Image Copyright @thetreehunter Rob McBride 2018 All Rights reserved. Useage only with PERMISSION.

In a relaxed and celebratory ceremony, the results of what I like to call #EuroVision4Trees, were announced to an invited audience with Nuno Mendes Calado, UNAC Secretary General  (Union of the Mediterranian Forest) stepping up to receive the impressive, hand-crafted Euro tree trophy. In 2014 I had hosted the awards ceremony myself, but this year I was able to relax and enjoy the event which promotes special trees and their culture along with the trees fascinating stories, heritage and deep connections to each community that nominated their tree.

Spain’s Seven ancient Elm trees from Cabeza del Buey came a creditable runner-up with 22,323 vote, overhauling the other debut tree, the Elder of the Belgorod Forests’ from Russia with 21,884 vote. Ten other wonderfully interesting and appreciated trees from across  Europe,-  including the UK’s Gilwell Oak from Epping Forest London -, fought it out during the voting month of February. In my annual ‘Tree Ride’ across Europe this year I was able to visit nine of the trees entered in the contest, staring out in a bitingly cold Lithuania in late January and ending in a somewhat warmer  Extemadura, Spain at the end of February. Meeting many diverse communities along the way icluding schoolchildren who had taken the time to draw & paint their own special trees I had the difficult task of judging each aTree Art contest.

It was in late February that I was standing in dappled sunshine under the spreading boughs of the Whistler Oak tree in the small village of Aguas de Moura in the Alentejo region of Portugal interviewing Mayor Alvaro Amaro alongside the tree nominator, Nuno Mendes Calado, UNAC Secretary General . Excitedly upon arrival at the tree I just had film a Facebook LIVE piece for my social media channels as I met local journalists and the Mayor gathered near to the tree.

I was struck by the genuine affection and pride for the tree as the Mayor chatted in Porutguese and Nuno translated for me. Teacher & part-timeMayor, Alvaro  started ‘It is a magnificent tree from a species in this municipality that they treasure and protect’ He continued ‘they call it the Whistler tree because many many birds come and sing in it, and also they call it the marriage tree because local people say under the shade of the tree you find many boyfriends or girlfriends and you make very good marriage’


                             VIEW many more IMAGES of the WHISTLER OAK and BABY WHISTLER here on Flickr


From the official ETOTY contest website  (organisers the Environmental Partnership Association) explains just how the tree acquired its unique name.

The Whistler owes the name to the sound from countless birds that lay on its branches. Planted in 1783 in Águas de Moura, this cork oak has already been stripped more than twenty times. In addition to the contribution to the cork industry, it has huge relevance for ecosystem services and fighting climate change. With 234 years, the Whistler has been classified as "Tree of Public Interest" since 1988 and is registered in the Guinness Book of Records: "the largest cork oak in the world".

And as if on cue when we finish chatting a beautiful songbird of a species I did not recognise glided gracefully high into the tree canopy and began a melodic song. I just had to film and record this chance happening quickly, if only the local dogs would keep the noise down! Hear the >  Birdsong To reiterate this theme a few hours later we arrived at a restaurant near Coruche and found...


Img-CorkArt 1

Cork Trees & Art - Humans, Art & trees seem to be inextricably linked the world over. Portugal, and more specifically the 'Montados' are apprecited by artist, food lovers and of course wine lovers. Here near Coruche we had dinner in a splendid local restaurant. Adorning the walls of the restaurant were many art work, ceramics Etc of the Cork Oak Culkture. Over the deli counter were the ubiquitous hanging jamons whose taste is beyond compare with the rubber ham you can buy in too many outlets.Jamon is another 'art form' - of gastronomy and even cutting of the ham by a specialist is a spectacle to be viewed with appreciation.


This years annual European tree of the year  (ETOTY) ‘Tree Ride’ enabled me to fulfil a long held dream now that Portugal had entered a tree into the contest for the first time. I had for many years heard tales of the Cork oak forests (sobreirais) and the more open, savannah like treescapes, the ‘Montados’ -read Dehesa Spain , Wood pastures UK- where trees, animals, people, art, food production & of course cork wine stoppers collide in a rich tapestry of cultural heritage.

This very special tree, - protected by law - at 235 years of age, is already well over the expected age for a Cork oak to live. In 1991 it produced a legendary harvest of over 100,000 cork stoppers form its stripped bark. This is more cork stoppers than a ‘normal’ cork oak tree produces in its lifetime! The tree will, say experts, end up providing enough bark to produce over 1 million corks by the time of its demise.

Cork trees can live on average around 200 years. The first harvesting of the cork bark being at 25 years (called the desbo)i,  after this initial cutting the tree is harvested every nine years (minimum under Portuguese law) and it is not until the trees are 43 years old that they produce cork of a  sufficient quality needed to produce the cork stoppers for quality wines. This non-damaging method of bark removal stimulates the tree to naturally regenerate its magical bark. After harvesting the tree trunk and branches cut take on a brilliant red colour as I saw on my trip. A number indicating the last digit of the year it was cut is then painted onto the trunk. Now all you have to do is wait nine more years for the next sustainable harvest. In the meantime the trees and the ‘Montados’ are home to many varied creatures including the critically endangered Iberian Lynx, Imperial Eagles, high quality, free ranging pork producing pigs fed on the acorns, and a myriad of invertebrates and insects.




Since 2001 when the laws on protection for cork oaks were ‘upgraded’ after instances of terrible destruction occurred. Now since this new law, if a cork oak is felled without lawful permission then the ground upon which it grew is forbidden to be developed for twenty five years. Dead Cork trees to be felled are painted around the trunk with a white band. Mind you they can take some time before they are felled I was told by my guides.


As Mayor Alvor, Nuno and I chat further it becomes apparent that maybe the Whistler cork oak may be given a slight ‘rest’ and harvested perhaps over the nine years minimum period required by law, so this year may not see it giving up its spongy, magical treasure bark.


Img-corkstoppers  Img-RealWinRealCorks  Img-APCOR-Fashion

Over 100,000 cork stoppers from one                                                 Cork used in fashion 
harvest in 1991 off the Whistler Cork tree                                                                                           image: © APCOR
Visit APCOR for much more on Cork and 
its applications.

Cork being a 100% natural product it has many wonderful properties and is the preferred stopper for quality wines worldwide. The durability of the cork can perhaps best be illustrated by the discovery in 2010 of  cargo of Champagne bottles being recovered from a shipwreck on the sea bed of the Baltic and found to still have a wonderfully rich taste, if not actually have the bubbles anymore. The strapline Real Cork, Real Wine being used for marketing purposes adds again to its appeal.

Portugal produces around half of all cork annually harvested worldwide and it is a significant contributor to the economic vitality of the country along with the aforementioned cultural aspects of this wonder tree. There are 737,000 Hectares of cork forests in Portugal representing 34% of the world’s cork forest area.

Of course we know of the millions of cork stoppers produced from the spongy bark of Quercus suber but many more products as varied as insulation on space crafts, to fashion items including shoes, hats and even umbrellas, flooring, musical instruments. Personally, apart from the cork flooring in our old kitchen I can remember using cork gaskets on my 1973 Ford Cortina engine re-build.

As we posed for more photographs with the Mayor and officials we stood next to the Whistler Oaks replacement. The ‘Baby Whistler Oak’ is a Quercus suber planted several years back approximately 50 metres from its mentor so that future generations can appreciate the offspring of this iconic cork oak tree. Close by there is also a tiled sign planted last year on Tree Day by the local Police in honour of the tree too.

Cork Oak Facts:

Typically Cork oaks are harvested for the first time after 25 years,  (called desboia) but it is not until they are 40 years plus that the cork is of sufficient quality to produce high quality stoppers, closures or corks as we know them.

A minimum of 9 years between ‘harvests’ of the bark ie cork is currently required by law.

Skilled workmen using axes carefully peel the bark off without damaging the trees trunk which turns a beautiful dark red afterwards.

The Whistler Oak harvest of 1991 is famous for it producing 2,645.55 pounds of bark which yielded over 100,000 corks. More than a typical cork tree would produce in its 200 year lifetime!

Since 2001 if a Cork Oak is felled illegally or by ‘accident’ the surrounding land cannot be developed for 25 years.

It is estimated by the time its bark is removed for the last time The Whistler Cork Oak will have yielded the raw material to produce over 1,000,000 corks.

Location: Aguas de Moura, Palmela, Alentejo, Portugal (approx 1 hour south of Lisbon)
Nominated & organised by; UNAC Union of the Mediterranian Forest.

Uses: Cork stoppers, spacecraft heatshields; clothing including shoe &, hats. Umbrellas, insulation, flooring

Location: N8°35'20.010 W8°41'47.440 W3W ///: raptures.rearranged.peacocks

N 38.5858941, W -8.6915792,472


Author Bio: (Rob McBride is a self-funded UK based tree Hunter that is passionate campaigner for ancient & heritage trees of the UK & Europe). Appearing on the BBC’s Countryfile many times, he helped launch the  2015 UK Tree of the year contest with the BBC’s Matt Baker). During February, the voting month Rob sets out to visit and meet the trees & communities  in the European Tree of the year contest.

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Rob McBride Tree Hunter 0044-7814526077 01691-622837